Gadget Lab's Rob Beschizza has spotted an especially onerous proviso in the FAQ page for this year's Consumer Electronics Show, the dreadful orgy of electronics held each January in Las Vegas: show goers, of which there are literally tens of thousands, will not be allowed to photograph products shown in booths without the express permission of the exhibitors.
From the FAQ:
Under no circumstance will anyone be permitted to take pictures of an exhibitor's product without the permission of the exhibitor. Many products on display at CES are unique, innovative, one-of-a-kind or prototype items. Exhibitors have the right to report to security any instance of inappropriate photographing of company products or displays.
In addition, media will be required to have their camera equipment authorized and stickered by CES staff.
CES exists for two primary reasons: showing new products to retail buyers who are looking to plan inventory purchases to fill up stores cleaned out by holiday shopping and to promote the latest new products to consumers via the coverage provided by enthusiast and mainstream media. Anyone who has covered CES in the past has had a forceful sales drone literally throw themselves between cameras and their products, chiding for attempting to show their products to the world outside of their carefully orchestrated marketing. This against our primary role as media and the show's raison d'etre: to show new products to potential customers.
The show is held primarily in the Las Vegas Convention Center, a facility managed and operated by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), a self-described "quasi-governmental agency," established by state law and funded by a county room tax. Having been constructed in 1959 from public tax money and expanded several times, including once in 1972 by funds generated through the sale of bonds by Clark County, the convention center is "publicly owned and operated," according to the man I spoke to this morning at the LCVCA's Research Department.
Because room taxes provide the majority of the funding, the "Convention Center and Cashman Center are not intended to be self-supporting but to generate convention, tourism, and business activity within Clark County," according to the LVCCA's 2006 SEC disclosure report.
I am still waiting for a response from the LVCVA (it's still fairly early out there), but CES is not the only trade show to ban or restrict photography on the floor. The International Council of Shopping Centers, for instance, bans photography entirely.
The point remains. CES is a trade show designed to promote new products to not only the thousands of attendees, but millions of consumer electronics enthusiasts. If exhibitors want to protect their products from being photographed, they should rent a private hotel or conference room. This is exactly how most large companies already protect their prototypes and "secret" products from leaks.
Update: A spokesperson for the LVCVA called me this morning and said that, while not comfortable giving a final proclamation, that the Convention Center is a public facility, but can be rented for private events. When I asked him if the fact that the Convention Center is a public-owned space might affect the rights of show-goers to take pictures, he said "That's a good question!" and referred us to the LVCVA's legal counsel.
In addition, Gizmodo's Adrian Covert was kind enough to pass on this interaction he had this morning with CES's press office that suggests the unofficial CES policy runs counter to the one stated in their FAQ.
From the the CE.org email to Adrian:
Thanks for your inquiry. I don't believe you need special credentials to shoot digital or video cameras on the show floor. We used to require all press to have security stickers that we gave out in the press room on all their equipment but we stopped doing that last year or the year before. Having a press/blogger badge helps, but I don't think it's required. In other words, general attendees can shoot floor footage as well as press.
That's good—if counter to the policy as stated in their FAQ—but it doesn't address the primary issue: that exhibitors can prohibit the photography of gadgets that are on public display.